- April 22, 2021
House of M: A Past Best Forgotten
Spoilers for House of M, written by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by Olivier Coipel.
House of M is a story that has defined the X-Men since before I started avidly reading comics. I’ve always loved the X-Men but I didn’t start reading comics until DC’s New 52 reboot. I even didn’t start reading Marvel comics until the All-New All-Different relaunch. Before that I only read the big Marvel Event here and there.
Even then, House of M was a storyline that the X-Men and mutants couldn’t escape. It had ended with nearly all mutants on Earth becoming human, in what I could only assume was a symbolic allegory for what if minorities were stripped of what made them minorities.
The Implications of House of M
What if people who were gay were made straight with three words, or black people made white, or women made into men. That’s how it felt in the storylines that followed House of M, at least the ones that were well-thought out.
But the true insulting nature of this idea and story never quite hit me before reading this book. Storylines for nearly a decade until Jonathan Hickman’s Dawn of X, were about mutants searching for hope and answers when there were none. They were about the kinship between fellow mutants when so many were no longer mutants. And the ways depowered mutants fought to be relevant and important when there was no way they could truly fight. What followed had a far deeper and quality introspection than what House of M actually offered in its setup.
For the longest time, I’ve always thought that the words “No More Mutants” was born out of some betrayal. It would have made sense that the X-Men hurt Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, or mutants in some way to make her do this. For the longest time I thought she was attacking the mutants who refused to accept her as they wanted to be accepted.
Or maybe she had been manipulated or betrayed into thinking that was true at least.
I had thought even, for a long time before reading this book, that in the Scarlet Witch’s madness she thought the best way to protect mutants from mankind’s hate was to make them no longer mutants. A flawed but understandable logic for an mentally ill individual to come to.
But as it turns out, all this time, that’s not it. She destroyed all the mutants because her pre-retconned daddy was a jerk.
A Good Start
I thought House of M was this old classic. I thought I would read, enjoy, and herald it as an underrated great whose controversy outshined its premise. The book started out so well, with character ideologies clashing over what to do with the Scarlet Witch. Watching the Avengers and X-Men argue over how to deal with an overpowered, destructive mutant was in one word, gripping.
Writer Brian Michael Bendis immediately got me on the verge of yelling at the page. I was emotional seeing each hero argue over which team had more reason to decide what to do with Wanda. The team she terrorized and attacked, or the superhero team who rehabilitated her and her brother from crime. Essentially, her victims, or her friends.
Who decides your guilt?
Or your victims?
This first issue was so good. The art by Olivier Coipel truly captured the emotions among them all, especially Wanda. She was wracked in the guilt she feels in killing her friends and the maddening agony of losing her children in Avengers: Disassembled.
When the first issue ended with the world changing as soon as the heroes find Wanda, it set up so much potential.
It ended with Spider-Man in this new world, married to Gwen Stacey, with a son.
And the worst thing happened, that could possibly have happened in the second issue.
Wolverine woke up, and just… remembered everything.
A Long Fall Down
The moment the second issue started with Wolverine, is when things started to fall apart. The book started focusing on everyone chasing after Wolverine rather than the world it created.
The book, through Wolverine trying to understand everything that’s happened, introduced this amazing premise. It was a world where every hero got their happy ending, their true greatest desire.
Everyone, every earth based hero and villain got what they wanted, and all in a world where mutants were on top.
Then Bendis spent, honest to god, next to no time truly dissecting this paradigm for any of these heroes. There were a couple quick peaks into their well-off lives, but nothing substantial in the main book. The only time this world seemed imperfect is when Hank Pym considered doing… something that would elevate humanity, but it was never clear what it was.
In this world, Captain Marvel got to be the world’s greatest hero; She-Hulk was a ace attorney; Cyclops and Emma Frost got to be a normal couple in their dream jobs; Captain America got to grow old. We got these little glimpses, teases of things that were supposed to come. For most of the cast, if we even learned how enjoyed themselves, it was all on non-comic pages.
House of M’s Potential!
The following issues until the midpoint, were filled with fleeting looks at everyone’s lives, while Wolverine tried to find someone who remembered the old world, but no real dissection of it.
The human heroes who rebelled against the mutants never said why life was so especially hard. How bad can the world be when Spider-Man can be happy. Spider-Man hasn’t been happy since he hit puberty.
These heroes just seem unhappy, with fleeting memories of an old life that honest god, wasn’t all that great. If the world needed superheroes, the world couldn’t be that great. Still, knowing that, Wolverine soldiered on as if the old world was how things had to be. Never were we given a real reason why.
We never even got any real explanation as to why Wolverine would want to work for Magneto’s version of SHIELD. So he can get paid to beat people up?
It’s as if all the parts I wanted to read were left to tie-in comics. They should be in this book, especially in the collection.
The Layla Problem
As soon as Wolverine found the few human rebels, the story introduced a deus ex machina. A deus ex machina that let heroes remember everything that had happened, in the form of a little girl named Layla. A girl I might add, who I didn’t know about before this comic because she’s barely shown up since. Do you know why?
Because the concept of her is stupid, and insulting, and annoying. Any character that’s just a mere plot device, tends to suck. A perfect example of another character like this is Ulysses in Civil War II, also written by Brian Michael Bendis.
I’m beginning to see a pattern here.
I’m starting to understand why Marvel fans got sick of him. He’s a good idea guy, but his execution for anyone that’s not Spider-Man just don’t hit the mark.
He had this cool idea and setting that could have thrived by just showing how each character lived. Instead, he immediately broke it down and destroyed it. He had this amazing premise of everybody getting what they want, including a mutant led world, and Bendis just skipped over this.
Stop Picking on Spider-Man
As the exception that proved the role of in this book, Spider-Man had the best stuff. We knew from the newspaper clippings that Mary Jane didn’t end up with Peter. Instead, she became a successful and famous actress, and that fact destroyed Peter. It was like this world was saying she’d be better off without him.
Then, in his perfect world, Spider-Man not only didn’t kill Gwen Stacey, but got to settle down with her. They had a son, and were happy together. Peter was even Spider-Man for a time in a world where Uncle Ben was alive. What does that say about him that he dreams of being with Gwen rather than his wife?
We knew this from two pages worth of scenes, and newspaper clippings. All this important stuff weren’t in the actual story.
Despite spending no time with Peter and his family, it was still utterly destroying to see Spider-Man learn its not real. Spider-Man truly was the only one who has the appropriate reaction to learning that a life with everything he wanted wasn’t real.
It destroyed him, left him running, crying, and wailing to learn that his wife was dead, his Uncle Ben was dead, and his son wasn’t real.
But that did not bank on proper build up, it’s effective only because we know Spider-Man’s story. Should Spider-Man not be ubiquitous in culture, that scene wouldn’t mean a goddamn thing.
The False Fakeout
The rest of the book was just the heroes pulling each other out of their perfect lives and while building up stuff that never happens.
By that, I’m talking about Professor X and Magneto. Professor X being captured by Magneto and likely dying kept being established with multiple looks to Professor X’s grave. Magneto being the one who forced Wanda to create this world, was consistently implied by the heroes, though not well because we’re never given a reason why.
Firstly, Professor X, whether he was dead or alive, never returned after the first issue. That’s just a plot line left hanging with not a single hint that it will followed up on somewhere else.
Then, as a twist that almost makes sense, the heroes were wrong. Magneto didn’t convince Wanda to change reality, Pietro did, Quicksilver, Wanda’s twin brother.
Except, it wasn’t actually surprising that Magneto wasn’t the villain, because this book spent nearly no time with him. He literally showed up for a few small scenes here and there where he just said ‘hello’ to people. There’s no reason for why Magneto must surely be the bad-guy-evil-ruler. For god’s sake, we barely see Magneto as ruler of the world.
For all intents and purposes, he may actually have been a good ruler. Doubtful, but possible.
Why There Are No More Mutants
It all came to a head where the heroes learned that Magneto was under Wanda’s spell too, he wasn’t the villain. Then, for some reason, the story still continued to treat him like he was.
Emma Frost revealed to him what Pietro did, and then Magneto went and killed him.
This is why Wanda said three infamous words, “No More Mutants.”
Because her father killed her brother. Because Magneto believed in his cause more than caring for his kids, who for all intents and purposes, have been as evil, as destructive, and as manipulative as him.
Now, Wanda isn’t wrong about Magneto. The problem is that Wanda didn’t punished Magneto, but the mutants, people who are also his victims.
This why 99% of mutants had to be depowered, so Wanda could hurt Magneto.
It makes no sense in a story that slowly made less and less sense as I read it.
Closing Thoughts on House of M
So yeah, House of M is a disappointing story. It held so much possibility and imagination in its premise, and never lived up to it.
For once, there’s real drama in heroes fighting heroes. They could have been arguing and fighting over whether or not they should put the world back.
But that never happens.
There was true drama and conflict behind Wanda turning a targeted minority into the majority.
But that didn’t happen.
After the first issue, the only thing that this story always did well for itself, was Olivier Coipel’s art. It’s truly amazing how he captured raw emotion, and subtle ones. You can see the condescension in Wolverine’s face, and the pain in Peter Parker’s eyes.
But its just so wasted on this book, I can’t say that enough.
Don’t read House of M, and if you already have, sorry, I hope you enjoyed the art.
I’ve never been so upset with a book that I’ve reviewed before this. This is actually really disheartening.
I guess, if you want to learn why the Scarlet Witch is now an enemy of the X-Men and mutantkind, you can probably make up a more interesting reason than what this book posits here.
And if you liked this book for something other than the art, I wanna know, why? Check out the video on our Youtube channel.